Cold winter weather can be tough on your skin. In the winter, the cold air can dry out our skin, which can cause itching and often leads to a condition called eczema. There are 2 main types of eczema: atopic dermatitis, which is related to genetics and tends to occur year-round, and dry skin eczema, which anyone can get if their skin is dry enough. Symptoms include red, scaly and itchy areas of skin. Fortunately, there are good treatments and also some ways to help prevent eczema.
Those with dry skin or eczema should develop a special skin care regimen, especially in the winter. Steps include:
- Making sure you’re not using a drying soap. Use a gentle, hydrating soap that is made for sensitive skin.
- Using lukewarm, not hot, water when washing your hands and bathing since hot water can be drying.
- Patting your skin dry, leaving it a bit damp and applying a heavy, creamy moisturizer or even an ointment. Thin lotions do not work nearly as well as moisturizing creams or ointments. Many products that specifically target eczema are good choices.
If you have eczema that does not clear with a good skin care regimen, you should talk to your doctor about prescription treatments to clear up your eczema.
Just because it’s cold out doesn’t mean you should skip your sunscreen. Sun protection is still very important in winter as you still accumulate sun damage, and sunlight also decreases the immune system in your skin. Normally our immune systems help protect us from infections, precancers and cancers. However, after just a few minutes of sun exposure, the immune system in the skin can be decreased for several days, so that it is not as able to fight off developing precancers or skin cancer. If you take part in winter sports, it is also extra important to reapply sunscreen because of the sun’s reflection off of the snow.
It’s recommended you use a sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher for daily wear, and a sunscreen with SPF 50 or higher that is also water and sweat resistant if you are going to be outside and active. Sunscreens containing zinc or titanium oxide are a little more effective, but you may prefer one that says “clear” or “invisible” since the others can sometimes make the skin look white.
Virginia Moye, MD, MPH, is a board-certified dermatologist at Alamance Skin Center, and a member of Cone Health Medical Group. She received her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from North Carolina State University. Moye received both her master’s degree in public health and doctorate of medicine from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.